But some changes were not so subtle. People started to change. They were no more the mannerly people of Shigaguao, but they started to ask questions. Why should we do this and not that? what is the meaning of this practice? Why should my sister stay home, while I have to go into the wild? Why does my brother get all the good food that I make ? Why don’t I get to keep the game I hunt for my family but share it with others? Why? Why? Why? But there was no one to answer them. Or rather, the answer they got was not satisfying enough. The old ones simply said, because this is how it has always been which was not very satisfying and there was no other answer to be got.
The questions finally reached the ears of the King. He was kneeling in front of the altar as he always did these days when a whisper on a wind brought him the words of some young acolytes talking in an adjacent passage.
“…How can there be no more? How can we offend the Spirt Gods at this juncture?”
“I don’t know. The merchant only told me there is no fresh meat as the people of the city have decided to keep their game for themselves this year.”
“We must tell the King. This is atrocious!”
“But how will the King help when all he does is try to get answers from silence?”
The King didn’t wait to hear anymore. He had heard quite enough, really and realized that somethings can’t be achieved by just waiting. He knew the Manitou would grant wishes, but not answer questions. But he knew where to get the answers now. And so he went.
He went all the way to the marshy lands in the outskirts of his kingdom, on the banks of the lake. He went to Shawnee’s wigwam. He went to the Stranger. But of course he didn’t go alone, he was the King after all and so his cortege, his court, his ministers, and a lot of his people who were curious to know what was going on, also went with him. Thus it was that a year later, almost to the hour when she had first seen the Stranger, did Shawnee once again see a stranger walking toward her on the ice. And before she could think, “Oh not another one!” she realized it was not one at all but many. A very many, indeed!
Now Shawnee, like most of the King’s subjects had never actually seen the King. Once long ago, when she was only a young bride, a fair had come to the marshy lands. Well the fair had come to the fair cities of the kingdom and was on its way out when its path lead it to the marshy lands. Seeing the eagerness of the people here, some of the artists, pitched their tents and showed off their talents. One of them was a man who could create magic with chalk. He could draw anything and make it almost come to life. When he started taking requests from his awestruck audience, the first request he took was Shawnee’s. “The King”, she blurted out enthusiastically, “show us the King as he is in his palace”. And the man had. He drew the King, in his kingly robes, surrounded by his courtiers, and holding his staff with the large ruby glinting at one end. And that is what Shawnee saw that day as the King walked towards her wigwam. The ruby, catching the first rays of the Sun as it peeked out of the overcast sky, glinted at her just like it had glinted all those years ago in the man’s drawing. Fascinated, she watched as the King drew closer to her and asked her if she had seen the Stranger. Not knowing what to say (and afraid she would say the wrong thing), she simply pointed to her door and stood aside. “Yato Keca!” (that means change, you know, in Cahokian) thought Shawnee, “when a King comes to a Stranger, there is definitely Yato Keca in the wind!”
“So you have come to see me, O King”, said the Stranger. “And I thought you of all people would never do so”.
There was a gasp that ran through the crowd at these words. Some of gasp expressed anger and some awe, even though they all said “Look how a stranger addresses a King!”
“And yet, somehow I think you were expecting me, Stranger”, said the King, drowning out the gasp.
The Stranger simled a strange smile and moved and somehow the way seemed to clear out and he and the King were once more on the lake path with the crowds falling back. “And may a stranger enquire as to the reason for a King’s visit?”
” You know, Stranger! You have raised a lot of questions, I think perhaps, it is time for you to raise some answers too”
The laugh that came next, the people remember to this day. When the wind blows and the bare, stiff trees bend at their waist, the creek of their knees and the scratch of their many stiff fingers on the icy ground, is the sound of that laugh. It starts as a rustle and ends in a howl and by the time this ended, the people were left chilled.
“You still have to ask, O King?” the Stranger’s voice boomed. He tapped the King gently on the shoulder and said, ” If you have to ask, you will never know. It is not an answer given, but found.” And he laughed again. Or maybe, it was just the wind that picked up. No one could ever tell with any certainty. All they remembered later was that the fog had moved out of the lake and on to the shore and the Sun had long gone back to hide behind the clouds. By the time the wind dropped and the fog cleared, all they could see was the King standing next to a big gnarly tree. A tree no one seemed to have noticed before, and yet must have been there a long time going by the way its roots had dug deep into the earth and the branches were bent over the waters of the lake.
“Yato Keca!” Shawnee said out loud this time. And she had a great big smile on her face, like she had solved the biggest puzzle she had ever been set. And the King looked at her with dawning comprehension and smiled back . “Yato Keca”, he nodded and walked back. And from that day forth, the King learned to listen to the questions and find the answers within him and to be brave enough to change things as they needed.
And that tree is right there still, you see? It stands to this day on the banks of the lake, going from bare to fragrant with flowers to leafy to bare again. As constant as change itself. And that is what the Cahokians of those days knew for a fact, that nothing lasts and nothing can resist Yato Keca, that Indian tree.